Today (14th June), the Sydney Morning Herald ran a review of The Oldest Song in the World, a novel by Sue Woolfe. The review is written by Linda Morris, and starts as follows:
To the untrained eye, the central Australian desert is as empty of hope and joy as the car park of a shopping mall after closing time. But give it time, author Sue Woolfe advises, and the eye comes to discern its contours. A spindly gum stands, a lone wrinkle in the dazzling blue distance; in morning sun, an ant crosses the sand, its minute frame dwarfed by its longlegged shadow.
The desert insinuates itself, Woolfe says, in a way city people who rule their landscape can never understand. The breathless midday heat smites speech and energy. In the silence, it’s possible to hear the rustle of a snake, and the desert colours – golds, russets and mauves – are so extraordinarily vivid they stick fast like flour and water to memory.
‘‘I was only saying to somebody the other day, there are several things in your life which are real turning points,’’ says Woolfe, a blonde-haired, pixie-faced woman wearing strawberry-festooned gumboots. ‘‘Well, for me it was when I first went to university because suddenly I was not only permitted to read books but I was expected to; when I first fell sexually in love; when I became a parent; when I became a writer; and when I went to the desert.’’
I haven’t read the book, so can make no recommendation. Nor do I have any desire to encourage the wearing of “strawberry-festooned gumboots.” However, I can testify to the ability of the desert to create a turning point in one’s life. I happened to me back in 1971. Patricia and I were on our honeymoon, and found ourselves meandering through the Outback in a very inadequately prepared Austin 1800 sedan (with “fluid suspension”). We had a “tinnie” strapped to the roof rack, with the words “ ‘Er name’s Doreen ” emblazoned on the side in tyre black. (There’s a story there, but it’ll have to wait for some other occasion.)
Marrying Patricia was certainly a turning point, and arguably the best decision I ever made. Experiencing the desert was another turning point – and the beginning of a secondary love affair.